Today’s Crossroads section in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has an excellent package of articles on how the newspaper’s editorial board works.
It includes an explanation of how it chooses letters to the editor, how it decides who will be the community and syndicated columnists, bios of the editorial board members, and how the board formulates the positions it takes in the daily editorials. It also includes a somewhat boring video of a typical editorial board meeting in which there’s little if any dissent, no arguing and none of the sparks that can really make those meetings fun.
The one article missing from the package was an explanation of how to work with the editorial board. It mentions that members of the public can schedule a meeting with the board, but it doesn’t explain the types of circumstances when someone might want to meet, or how to prepare for the meeting.
As a former member of four newspaper editorial boards during my 22 years in the business, I recommend you approach the editorial boards of your local newspapers, particularly when you need their support for a cause or issue. You can also ask for a meeting when:
—You are about to break a sensitive news story and you want to meet with the board before the story appears, to provide background and try to win them over to your side early. Some sources ask for “off the record” editorial board meetings, and sometimes editors agree because they want to be in the loop and have all the information they need when the story breaks.
—The newspaper has been printing unfavorable editorials about you and you want to present your side. But don’t expect to change their minds.
—You feel the newspaper has treated you unfairly or has demonstrated media bias.
—You feel that the reporter who has been assigned to your beat has a vendetta, an agenda, or is purposely out to get you. Meet with the board only after you have exhausted all other means. That includes contacting the reporter’s immediate supervisor.
—You have a new chief executive officer who you want to introduce to the board simply for a “getting to know you” session. Few organizations bother to do this. Yet the bigger and more newsworthy your organization, the better the chances they will want to meet with you.
In my “Special Report #33: How to Win the Support and Respect of Newspaper Editorial Boards,” I explain several important things you should do before meeting with an editorial board. Here are a few of them:
Do your homework
Decide beforehand the key points you want to get across and be prepared to present appropriate background information to support them. You might even put your key points in writing and present them to members of the board when you meet with them.
Practice your presentation
Make sure you know how long you’ll be able to present, and leave time for questions. Practice your presentation so you aren’t tongue-tided, particularly if you dread the thought of sitting at a table with seven or eight newspaper executives who might grill you.
Anticipate difficult questions
Compile a list of the most difficult questions you can image being asked. Craft responses for each one. Then practice your responses until you are comfortable with them.
I’ve written here about how newspapers are dying, but until they’re gone forever, the newspaper editorial board remains a powerful group of people you’ll want on your side.